Media to crank up opposition against controversial oversight by govt panel

national January 31, 2017 01:00

By Khanittha Theppajorn,
Kasamakorn Chanwanpen
The Nation

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Concerns centre on ‘professional council’ that could revoke journalists’ licences



MEDIA ORGANISATIONS nationwide will step up measures against a proposed media regulation bill by submitting an open letter to members of the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) voicing their opposition on Thursday.

The move comes after the media reform committee of the NRSA insisted yesterday it would continue to push the contentious bill despite the media’s call to drop the draft.

“The bill is a severe threat towards media freedom in reporting news and scrutinising the state’s power as well as the public’s right to access news and information,” Thepchai Yong, president of the Confederation of Thai Journalists, said in response to the latest move by the NRSA media panel.

Thepchai said he and 30 media organisations would submit a letter to all NRSA members via the vice chairman of the NRSA, Alongkorn Polaboot, at Parliament on Thursday.

ACM Kanit Suwannnet, head of the media reform committee, said yesterday the panel would present the draft to the NRSA’s whip on Thursday. He insisted the bill was in the best interests of the media.

The controversy of the bill involves its key feature – a so-called “media professional council”, whose composition would include the permanent secretaries of the finance, culture and digital economy ministries as well as the Office of the Prime Minister. The media fears the four permanent secretaries would represent political interests and open the door to interference and control of the media. “The permanent secretary is supposed to be scrutinised by the media, but ironically the bill allows officials to control and punish media,” Thepchai said.

However, Kanit said at a press conference that the committee aimed to bring efficiency and balance to the media.

‘Same as a pilot’s licence’

In response to concerns about the proposal to issue and revoke licences for media organisations and journalists, Kanit said a professional council would be responsible, while the licensing idea would bring the country in line with international standards and certify organisations according to professional standards.

“It is the same as a pilot or engineer’s licence,” Kanit said.

Thepchai countered that the media profession needed people from various educational backgrounds, unlike pilots or engineers, so that they would not be under government control.

“More importantly, no one should be allowed to set standards for the media’s news reporting, expression of opinion or scrutiny to please those in power,” he said.

He also countered Kanit’s claim that the panel had met and discussed the issue with media representatives, saying the media had sent a clear message and strongly opposed the bill whenever they had met with the committee.

Kanit said he had discussed the issue with media representatives and explained that the committee’s makeup would be in line with research by the Thailand Development Research Institute, which suggested a professional council should be made up of members from the private and public sectors.

The main role of such a council would be to improve media professional and living standards as well as to make sure the media’s work was appreciated, he said.

However, the vice president of the media reform committee, Pisit Pao-in, conceded that there was a chance the media would be regulated by state authorities.

The professional council would have to intervene if media professionals or organisations fail to comply with a code of conduct, he said.

However, he said regulations would adhere to a hierarchical process in accordance with the draft bill.

It would be the responsibility of media organisation to regulate their subordinates and deal with journalists or companies following complaints, Pisit said. The professional council would be the final authority in terms of regulation, he added.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said the junta had never thought about controlling the media but wanted outlets to perform their duties honestly and report the truth.